Tuesday, September 30, 2008 0 comments

Judging a movie

I happen to be taking a film class this semester. Let me tell you, it is an education, and sometimes not always a good one. I want to pass on some things I’ve learned that I hope will help you increase your ability to judge films with righteous judgment.

One thing I’ve learned is that it is not enough to say, “_____ was a good film”, because the question “Why?” quickly arises. Too often we speak only in generalities. In order to evaluate (meaning to form an idea of the value of) a film, we must judge by certain specific criteria.

One criteria that people often use to judge a film is by whether it is realistic or not. They get really into looking at the props and whether they are accurately depicted for the time period the film is set in. They point out when the hero doesn’t reload his gun when he should. They wonder whether people would really act that way. War movies are especially judged by this criterion. Were the Nazis brutal enough? Was enough blood spattered in a realistic manner? It seems to me that there is some realism that is not worth seeing, because the desensitizing effect on our spirit would outweigh any educational benefit we might receive from seeing what it was really like.

Another criterion that is often used to judge a film is by morality. I very much like this criteria, of course, because my religion is so much a part of my life that I see the world through the lens of morality. The thing that very much disturbs me is that my film book seems to be ambivalent about moral criteria as an important criteria for judgment or for making an effective film. It merely acknowledges that some people think that obscenity, nudity, and violence is bad, whereas others think those elements are praiseworthy. It suggests that a film might be praised morally for its overall view of life as suggested by its form as a whole, even though its individual elements might be considered offensive. If we admit this to be the case, we find ourselves wondering where to draw the line—how much swearing, sexual content, violence, etc. can a movie have before it becomes bad? How much safer to avoid it! And then, of course, we find out that someone has made a film that has none of these things in it, but which deals with a terrible theme in such a way as to make it unfit for consumption.

One thing I always used to wonder about was why filmmakers would get so upset when other companies would edit the obscenity, nudity, sexual content, and violence from their films. It never seemed like that kind of stuff is necessary to the plot. In my film textbook, it says, “If form in cinema is the overall interrelation among various systems of elements, we can assume that every element has one or more functions. That is, every element will be seen as fulfilling roles within the whole system…One useful way to grasp the function of an element is to ask what other elements demand that it be present.” (1) So, somehow, the filmmakers make a story that is so constructed that those elements of obscenity, nudity, sexual content, and violence are in some twisted way important to the effect or progression of the plot.

Let’s take an example. Enchanted . PG, right? The scene that most disturbs me is when Robert walks in on Gizelle when she’s just getting out of the shower. (Guys do not just walk in to the bathroom when they know that a strange woman they took in from off the street is taking a shower!) Pigeons cover her up with a towel just in time, before there is nudity, but still the shock of what almost happened.. Oh, words fail me. And then somehow they end up stumbling around and she falls on top of him on the hallway floor, still in her towel, just as his girlfriend walks in. ARGH! Why did they have to put all of this in there?!

In my frustration with it, I thought about how it affects the events in the story. First, it sows the seeds of distrust in the girlfriend so that she begins to distance herself from Robert. (Robert and Gizelle are going to end up together somehow..) Also, it provides the groundwork for the totally cute musical number later in which Gizelle tells Robert how to patch things up with his girlfriend (and the musical number ironically becomes another bonding experience between Robert and Gizelle). We could take out that shower bit and then we’d have no premise to support some of the other events that happen afterwards.

When this kind of content is necessary to the plot, the plot itself has moral flaws. Could it be improved? I bet it could. The story would have to take a rough massaging, but it could be done.

Lets move on to some of the other criteria used to judge a film. These are criteria that the book says are artistic.

First there is coherence, which is also called unity. I like to think of this as an indication that the film has started in the right place in the story and ended when it should, and that it has a feeling of completeness, that the various elements reinforce each other and accumulate a meaning for the viewer.

Then there is the criterion of intensity of effect. This refers to whether a film is striking or emotionally engaging to the viewer. Many filmmakers are trying to get as strong an emotional response from us as possible, so when we say that we are not affected by a film, we are truly desensitized.

As Latter-day Saints, we spend as much as our lives as possible sensitizing ourselves to moral situations so that we can make good choices. The more sensitive we get, the more we will notice things in the films we watch. We may find that films we liked years ago become painful to watch now. That is okay; it just means we need a higher level of entertainment.

I have to make a comment about an aspect of intensity of effect. Latter-day Saint artists, in trying to create stories or films or paintings or whatever with emotional intensity have to constantly make choices about far they will go to achieve an effect. How far will you go to convey the idea of love? Filmmakers think that means steaming up the screen with sexual content, but if we put morality as our top priority, we know sexual content is off-limits. The intensity of effect must be achieved some other way—through the accumulation of many small and simple things.

Another criterion for evaluating film is that of complexity. A complex film is one that is interesting on different levels. It could be that the characters are complex mixtures of good and evil. It could be that the plot has unexpected twists and turns. It could be that the topics that are examined are difficult and puzzling. It could be that there are different storylines going on at once. It could be that focus is on a larger number of characters rather than on just a small number.

Here too in the issue of complexity there is potential for abuse. For instance, I really, really don’t like it when the hero or heroine becomes such a complex mix of good an evil that it seems impossible that they could ever pull off the heroic action. I am constantly annoyed by whiny heroes and whiny heroines who are fighting their heroic “call” up to the moment that they start doing their hero thing. In my mind, heroism requires strength of character that has to be built up over a period of time through smaller feats of heroism. I'd like to see those preparatory feats. I subscribe to the idea of the “prepared hero”. I also don’t like the idea of characters that do both very terrible and very good things. A bitter tree can not give good fruit and a good tree can not give bitter fruit.

When films examine topics that are difficult and puzzling, it seems like it is almost on a collision course with moral criteria, because difficult topics (like marital relations, aging, death, illness, gender issues, and so on) require sensitive treatment and a velvet touch, yet filmmakers are still going for that intensity of effect, trying to knock our socks off.

Another criterion is that of originality. There seems to be some kind of idea out there that it is original if films depict good things to be bad. I’ve already run up against the idea of making the villain the hero. Ones in which marriage is portrayed as inhibiting and divisive and religion is portrayed as evil and yada yada yada…. this is seen as original? The problem with doing this is that soon the good value of the thing demonized is forgotten and with proliferation of this point of view, the other point of view disappears and then bad marriages are viewed as the only ones worth portraying, oppressive and bigoted religion is the only religion that appears, snotty rude children are the only ones shown on film, and so on.

I think true originality lies in discovering something good that no one quite noticed before, saying the truth in a fresh way. And being original in a moral way is actually spiritually demanding and requires inspiration and the help of God for it to be genuine and not sentimental. This is why I feel that morality is an integral part of art and the creative process.

This has been a bit of a rant, but I really had to get it off my chest. Thanks for listening.

Citations
(1) Film Art: An Introduction, David Bordwell and Kristen Thompson, p65
Friday, September 26, 2008 0 comments

What good is doctrine?

I just got next month’s Ensign magazine and I had to read it totally through. I was particularly encouraged by the article “Gospel Doctrines: Anchors to Our Souls” by Elder Marlin K. Jensen. He quoted this significant snippet from President Boyd K. Packer:
True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.
This is especially significant when we are trying to become better people. It tells us that we must have true principles before we can make any improvements.

This is very true. I was always fairly good at being organized, but when I finally began to understand the doctrine of stewardship, I made substantial improvements in how I deal with my stuff, how I use my money, how I do my church calling, how I use my time, etc. Understanding more about the doctrine of agency (freedom of choice) helped me make better choices and helped me allow others to make choices. Understanding the doctrine of repentance has given me a desire to purify myself and has led me to be more careful not to sin and to be more quick to repent if I find I have sinned. I have changed so many aspects of my life for the better after learning true doctrine.

Doctrine’s potential to change us lies in its communication of eternal principles, which have wide application in many different situations and allows us to govern ourselves.

Consider this doctrine: Heavenly Father has a plan for you.

This doctrine implies that our birth time or place was not accidental.
It implies that Heavenly Father is aware of us as individuals and considers each of us special.
It teaches that Heavenly Father has some special things that He wants us to do.
It implies us that Heavenly Father will guide us to whatever it is that He wants us to do.
It suggests that we must prayerfully consider our opportunities and receive guidance from Heavenly Father on what opportunities we should take.
It implies that when we follow Heavenly Father’s plan for us, we will be much happier than if we don’t follow it.

All of these ideas have the effect of helping us to appreciate our circumstances, encouraging us to look for divine guidance, to look for the Lord’s hand in our life events, and gives us a sense of purpose and a sense that we have a special place in the world. It has the effect of helping us to trust the Lord more, instead of depending upon our own limited understanding.

Yes, true doctrine is a wonderful, powerful thing.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 0 comments

How should we define scripture?

At a blog I was reading, I ran across a post that asked the above interesting question.

The nice thing about scripture is that it can answer the question itself. Here’s what Paul wrote:
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
That scripture is given by inspiration from God seems like a no-brainer, but what further helps us is that what is communicated in scripture is profitable for:
  • Doctrine
  • Reproof
  • Correction
  • Instruction in righteousness
One thing this says is that scripture lays out doctrine. Doctrine tells us who to believe in—Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Doctrines encompass beliefs about where we come from, why we are here, and where we are going. They encompass beliefs about how the world came into being, the need for salvation, how salvation is achieved, and principles of moral action. Doctrine is principles to believe in, like love, forgiveness, justice, mercy, faith, and so on.

Another aspect of scripture is reprimand and censure of wickedness, which Paul called “reproof”. This is an important part, because the same sins crop up in all eras of time, so the reprimand of one generation can serve to warn following generations from the same sins.

Another aspect of scripture is that it helps correct us after reproving us. It has instructions of what we should do. It has stories of people who repent of their sins and what they do to return to God and these stories serve as examples for us to follow.

Scriptures also contain instruction on how to be righteous. The Beatitudes spoken by Christ starting in Matthew 5 are the shining example of this. It gives us a goal to work towards and a standard by which to measure our progress. It specifies good works to do.

I compiled a list of the type of content that I see in scriptures:
  • The story of the creation and the fall of man that teaches us why we need a Savior
  • Commandments from God
  • Stories about miracles and how God has helped His people
  • Sermons calling to repentance
  • Warnings of the judgments of God
  • Stories about how God has chastened His people
  • Stories of people’s conversion to the truth of the gospel
  • Stories about the actions of holy men—prophets, apostles, and Jesus Christ
  • Stories of how the Lord helps missionaries teach the gospel
  • Instruction about what the kingdom of heaven is like
  • Prophecies of what is to happen
I know the scriptures are relevant for us today and I know they are true.
Sunday, September 21, 2008 0 comments

A story about escape from slavery


Today I was reading in the Book of Mormon about Alma’s people and their escape from slavery and I ran across this verse:
Yea, and in the valley of Alma they poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, and eased their burdens, and had delivered them out of bondage; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God. (Mosiah 24:21)
I thought about that phrase “none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God” and I thought I would go back and study the situation to see if I understood the full magnitude of their deliverance.

While in slavery, they had burdens on their backs and task masters and it was so bad that they began to “cry mightily to God” (see Mosiah 24:10).

I find it interesting that the Lord tells them He will deliver them, but He also adds that He will do something very special for them:
And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions. (Mosiah 24:14)
They were strengthened by the Lord that they could carry their burdens easily to the point that it seemed no burden at all. This was done not just to benefit them, but to benefit many other people too; the Lord expected them to testify forever after that the Lord does help people with their troubles. And it says that they put their faith in the promise of deliverance and had patience. “…and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15).

Because of their faith and patience, (and we don’t know how much time passed) the Lord told them “on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage” (Mosiah 24:16)

When the word came that they would be delivered the next day, after a hard day’s work in slavery, they didn’t hesitate; they spent the entire night gathering their flocks and grain and stuff together, and then in the morning, when they saw their Lamanite task masters were sleeping unusually long, they booked it out of there and traveled the whole of the next day! Extraordinary! 12 hours of hard forced labor, then 12 hours of herding and packing and carrying heavy loads of grain back and forth to pack animals, and then 12 hours of quick traveling and herding animals and carrying babies and running to get away as fast as they can and keeping small children from getting left behind and keeping everyone together … 36 hours of hard work! No sleep! Now, I’ve spent a day hauling boxes and buckets of food storage before. I’ve pulled all-nighters before. I’ve done a few miles of “pioneer trekking” before, but I’ve never done a 36 hour period of all of it combined and no sleep!

And then, notice that it says that after twelve days of travel they arrived in the land of Zarahemla. Just for comparison’s sake, the people of Limhi journeyed for “many days” (Mosiah 22:13) So it appears that Alma and his people were strengthened so that they could travel farther and faster.

That first day’s journey for Alma and his people may have been the equivalent of a multiple days’ journey for other people, which may be why the Lamanites stopped searching for them in that particular valley that Alma and company stopped in after one day.

So this is what the Lord did for them:
  • The Lord promised to deliver them from bondage.
  • The Lord turned the burdens they carried while in bondage into strength training necessary for their escape.
  • The Lord informed them ahead of time of the day they would be delivered, so that they could prepare for it.
  • The Lord strengthened them to gather their stuff together to get ready for departure.
  • The Lord made the Lamanites oversleep substantially to give them time to escape.
  • The Lord strengthened them to keep up the frenetic pace to get them beyond reach.
  • The Lord also guided them back to Zarahemla, as none of them knew where it was.
Learning this has been wonderfully encouraging. My semester has started to really sink down on my shoulders recently and I’ve been finding that I need to budget my time so carefully. I have a lot of large projects that I have to prepare for and I am tired of the stress of procrastination, so this semester I have been trying to break them up into little pieces that are small enough and do-able enough that I can fit them in with my usual weekly class work. I’ve been working on homework until about 11:30 or midnight most nights, even Saturday and trying to fit in scouting and a temple visit every week and this weekend I just didn’t get everything done that I had on my list. Reading about Alma and his people has encouraged me to submit with patience and cheerfulness and not complain about what I have to do. It’s showed me that the Lord has the power to strengthen me to do all that is required of me and that the Lord will be with me, even in crunch times.

I said before that I didn’t get my homework done on Saturday that I had on my list, and I was a little worried about that. I felt that I was starting to fall behind and I worried that I was failing to do what I needed to do.

Then, last night I had a dream. I dreamt I was at a school campus and I was being chased by three threatening guys. I didn’t know what would happen if they caught me, but I was certain I wouldn’t like it. I did a lot of climbing and hiding and dodging to try to get away from them. I was in a dormitory with lots of bunk beds everywhere, five or six high. To get away from my pursuers, I would climb up the sides of these bunk beds, and the amazing thing was that I could climb up only using the strength in my arms. My body was so light that my legs didn’t have to do anything to help and I could even hold myself out horizontally. (I found this particularly fascinating, because in real life I don’t have much arm strength.) Sometimes I could fly or float short distances to escape and other times I could turn invisible. I was really having a lot of fun in my dream doing this and I remember thinking, “I could have even more fun if I didn’t have to keep away from these people chasing me!”

I had so much fun that I actually was reluctant to wake up.. but when I did I felt that this dream was from Heavenly Father and that He was trying to show me that I was stronger than I thought, that how I was handling my homework demonstrated strength, and that it could be very fun, if I had the right attitude. In the Lord’s eyes my burden was light and I was doing just fine.
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
(Image credit - RULA, www.asmnetwork.net/brotha_pruitt.htm)
Thursday, September 18, 2008 2 comments

Whose is this image?

16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:16-21)
Usually when we read this scripture, we read it to mean that money may belong to the government that coins it, but our service or something else (we’re not quite sure what) belongs to God.

I believe that the key to understanding exactly what it was that should be rendered to God is in that word “image”. Somehow Jesus was trying to draw a parallel that his hearers could perfectly understand.

I made progress when I remembered an important scripture in the Old Testament that I’m absolutely sure the Jews of Jesus’s day knew extremely well. A scripture from Genesis about the Creation.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:27)
There it is. Render to Caesar the things that are in his image, but render to God the things (meaning us) which are in His image.

And that word “render”. According to the dictionary it could mean “give help” or “submit for inspection” or “hand over” or “deliver” or “cause to become”, among other things.

(Image credit - LDS pictures, ldspictures.wordpress.com/)
Wednesday, September 17, 2008 0 comments

Why an organized religion? (part 3) On Authority

In my last entry I talked about the purpose of gathering together as a church. In this one, I will examine what gives people the authority in my church to tell others what to do.

My church is different from a lot of other Christian sects in that instead of one person having all the authority over a congregation and no one else having any, all worthy males above a certain age can hold some priesthood authority.

This is where it becomes very important to have order and organization, because if everyone tells everyone else what to do, it can turn into chaos really quickly. Over each congregation, one man is called and ordained by a higher authority to preside over the congregation. This man called is the bishop. The bishop is given two counselors to help him and he delegates some of his authority and responsibilities to them.

One of our articles of faith is that we believe a man must be called of God by prophecy and by the laying of hands (ordination) by those who are in authority to teach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.

The bishop must be called to that position by a higher authority than himself. The person who extends that call is called the stake president, who presides over a small number of congregations. The stake present is called by a general authority, and as far as I know the general authority is a seventy (“Seventy” is a title of a part of the priesthood). The seventies are called by an apostle, and apostles are called by the prophet. The prophet is the man who has been an apostle the longest (seniority) and who has not died yet—the Lord has allowed them to stay on earth.

Our church’s first modern prophet was Joseph Smith, who had his authority conferred upon him by the ancient apostles Peter, James, and John, who visited him and Oliver Cowdery in 1929.

Another principle comes into play with the ordination of people to offices of authority in the church--they must be accepted and upheld by the people they serve. So, in our church the names of the people who have been called to positions are presented to the whole congregation and everybody else gets a chance to raise their hand to show that they accept the person in that position. If they don’t accept it, they are given a chance to share the reasons for their trepidation. This idea that people must be given a chance to choose whether they accept a person in a position is called “common consent”. It also informs everyone who is in what position and it has the benefit of preventing someone from falsely claiming authority for a position that they don’t have. Even the prophet and apostles are sustained by common consent.

Another principle of leadership in our church is that leaders can’t strong-arm people into following them by saying “I have priesthood authority over you, therefore you must obey me”.
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. (Doctrine & Covenants 121:41-44)
The Lord expects church leaders to use only the power of persuasion, the power of patience, and gentleness, meekness, love that isn’t faked, kindness, pure knowledge (which enlightens), and to avoid hypocrisy or sneakiness of any kind when trying to influence people.

The scripture above also mentions how a church leader should reprove:
  • “betimes” – This means early, or quickly. Being corrected immediately after making an error helps keep mistakes from becoming habitual.
  • “with sharpness” – I see this as meaning clarity and firmness; I don’t think God intends reproof to be vicious. The more clearly it is communicated what the mistake was and why it was wrong, the more of a learning experience it becomes.
  • “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost” – There are a lot of faults and foibles that can be overlooked when dealing with other people, so a leader needs that extra guidance from revelation to let them know when it is important enough to speak up about an issue.
  • “showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy” – I know that for me, receiving a strong reproof is painful and I am inclined to feel alienated from the person who gave it and think they don’t like me, but when they show extra kindness immediately afterward, I stop being afraid of them. There have been a few times when I have gotten a bit of a dressing down from a church leader with authority over me and the increase of love afterward made a big difference in my ability to take to heart what they were saying. The increase of love showed me they cared about me and wanted the best for me, so I was able to look more objectively at my own behavior and I finally saw that they were indeed right.
Another principle of leadership in our church is what I call servant leadership. If any man wants to be the greatest, he must be the servant of all. Christ taught this during his ministry.
24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. (Luke 22:24-27)
Christ was the greatest of all, yet He was always serving. Leadership and priesthood in our church isn’t a crown; it’s a shovel. It’s not about receiving honor from men, but about getting to work to serve.

Another principle of leadership in our church is lay leadership. It means our leadership does not receive monetary compensation for their service. For their service, they receive grace from God that helps them do their church duties.
And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God. (Mosiah 18:26)
In our church just about every willing adult is given a calling, which is basically a position with duties to do. We believe these callings come from God and that they are especially for us at this particular time of our lives. In a congregation the bishop seeks for revelation from God to know to whom a call should be extended for a position. There are all kinds of different callings. There lots of teaching callings, there are leadership callings, there are service callings, there are secretarial/clerk callings, there are counseling callings, there are musical callings, there are scouting callings, there are missionary callings, committee callings and much more. We serve in our position until the bishop receives revelation that we should be released. Callings can last a number of years.

This organization of duties means everybody has the chance to participate and help each other, everyone gets the chance to learn how to lead, and it means that we can do so much more as a group with direction than we could separately.

Another principle of leadership in our church is that of obtaining revelation. Every person in a leadership calling (or any other calling for that matter) has the right to receive revelation as to how they should do their calling. I’ve prayed for revelation when I haven’t been sure what to do. I’ve prayed for revelation when I know what I want to do and I want to know if the Lord approves or not. Answers and help do come.

I have experienced this myself in some miraculous ways. I was called as the organist for my congregation and though I had lots of piano experience, and I had some pedal experience, the pedal experience I had was on a completely different kind of instrument (a mechanical carillon, in fact) and the technique was completely different from what I was used to. In short, I only had half of the skills. When I was called to be organist, I was given a blessing that I would learn to play things that I hadn’t been able to play before. I did a lot of practicing and as I practiced the hymns, the Spirit of the Lord would inspire me with ideas of techniques to try and I would practice that and improve my playing. I learned how to play the pedals better this way. I know that the Lord was giving me revelation so that I could fulfill my calling.

My husband and I were co-chairs of the activities committee. We had the duties of planning and implementing parties and holiday celebrations for our congregation. We had the committee to help us. The Lord blessed us with good ideas and led us to people who could help us and things worked out. I also learned that with all the people helping and supporting our efforts, I couldn’t take credit for the whole thing. At the same time that I learned how to delegate, I learned to give people credit. At the same time that I learned how to lead, I learned how to give my committee members a lot of latitude and not micromanage. I learned how to encourage and give approval. At the same time that I was learning to make good decisions, I was also learning how to counsel with the committee. After all, I wasn’t the only one with the Spirit of the Lord. They could get revelation too on the best way to do their duties.

While opportunities for leadership can enlarge the soul, they can also be intoxicating. Heavenly Father is fully aware of the tendency of men to abuse their authority, and the following scripture gives very valuable insights into what happens to priesthood authority when it is overstepped or abused.
39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
34.…And why are they not chosen?
35 Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. (Doctrine & Covenants 121:39-40, 34-38)
We learn here that three things that grieve the Holy Ghost and cause it to leave are:
  • Trying to hide our sins
  • Trying to gratify pride or ambition (Ex: aspiring to leadership callings, showing off, self-righteousness, seeking for men’s approval rather than God’s, etc.)
  • Trying to force people to do things
We also see from the scripture that once a person has the priesthood conferred upon them, those powers they are given from God are only controlled and maintained through their righteousness and any departure from holy leadership principles will grieve the Spirit of God and when the Holy Spirit is offended, it leaves, and then the power and authority of the person has ceased. Though they may still have the calling in the church, it will be obvious that something wrong has happened, because they will demonstrate four things:
  • They will be left to themselves and not have the Spirit to help them in their duties.
  • They will be resistant to any suggestion that they are doing something wrong.
  • They will persecute other people.
  • They will fight against God.
If we have any complaints of someone’s leadership we can take it to a higher authority. In my years in the church I have never had to do this or personally seen a case when it was needed. It happens, but only rarely.

A principle of following church leaders is what I call revelation confirmation. Every person affected by the decisions of the leaders over them has a right to a revelation that confirms the truthfulness of what they are asked to do. We have faith that the same Spirit from God that inspires a leader to do something to benefit his stewardship will confirm that revelation in those who are affected. The way people deal with this varies. Some put their trust in the guidance they have received and test it by obeying and seeing what comes of it. (“ye shall know them by their fruits”) Others pray for and receive a confirmation, and then obey.

All these principles of leadership and discipleship in our church make the organization extremely effective. With revelation, leaders can lead with confidence and love. With faith and confirming revelation, we have confidence in our leaders and obey willingly and we grow very attached and loyal to them (though not to the point that we can't let go when they are released and can't give new leaders our support). And I’m not just talking about how this is supposed to be in theory. In our church, this really happens. It is the norm for our church organization to work smoothly. Yes, little frictions do occur from time to time, but they are few and far between and they get settled.

I’m very grateful for priesthood leaders. It’s a confusing world and we need revelation on how to handle it. We need organization so that we can do more for the world. We need guidance. We can support and uphold each other. Organized religion is the vehicle for all of that and I know that it works.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008 0 comments

Why an organized religion? (part 2) On Gathering


In the previous entry, I pointed out the principle that God is a God of order and not confusion. In this entry I want to explore the principle of gathering together for worship at church.
But if they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance; (3 Nephi 21:22)
This is an interesting scripture, because it suggests that the establishment of God’s church is a reward for our repentance and listening to His word and keeping a soft heart. To enter in and become a member of the Lord’s kingdom, after repenting of our sins, we make a covenant (a two-way promise) with God by being baptized. We promise to obey Him and keep His commandments. Certainly if we are part of His kingdom we must keep His rules. He promises us eternal life.

In the Book of Mormon there was a people who were anxious to be part of the Lord’s church.
7 And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
11 And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts. (Mosiah 18:7-11)
This scripture points out a blessing of being part of the Lord’s church: those who come into the fold of God (the church) to be called His people and are willing to do those things listed are promised they will receive redemption, be numbered with those of the first resurrection, and receive eternal life.

The boldness of this promise is simply astounding! It is amazing that membership in the Lord’s church can qualify a person for redemption from their sins, being resurrected with the very first round of people, and eternal life, but it happens because the requirements of baptism and repentance have been met first. This is perfectly in line with the amazing grace and mercy of God, who gives us blessings that seem far greater than the things we do to qualify for them. I know it is just like Him to do something like that for us. Certainly then He can ask whatever He wants of us as a requirement to enter His fold, and as a requirement to continue in His fold. We can be sure that what He asks will be right, because of His holiness.

In the meantime while we wait for those promises to be fulfilled, He promises to pour out His Spirit more abundantly upon us. That spiritual abundance is how we know that we are in the right place and doing the right thing and that it is really true. I have felt that abundance myself and that Spirit stays with me as sort of a down payment of eternal life. It stays as I keep myself worthy of it. I wish everyone could have this gift confirmed on them.

God wants to give us more of His word, and the church is a vehicle through which it is given, as part of that abundance of the Spirit that is promised. The word of God is poured out freely like water at church.
65 For, behold, I will gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if they will not harden their hearts;
66 Yea, if they will come, they may, and partake of the waters of life freely.
67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
69 And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (Doctrine & Covenants 10:65-69)
This scripture shows us several things. First, it tells us that by gathering together as a church, we gain more free access to “waters of life”, which is the doctrine of Christ, teachings that edify and help us to understand. It is knowledge that doesn’t just feed the mind, but the soul as well. This happens when we hear lessons and sermons and the comments of those around us.

My church meetings on Sunday last for three hours. Many things happen there that feed my soul.
  • First, there is singing of hymns. Everyone sings together and we all feel the Spirit of the Lord through the music and we feel united with one another in praising the Lord.
  • Then there is the administration of the sacrament, the bread and water, symbolizing Christ’s death for us. This time is very quiet, so that we all have a chance to think and ponder what Christ’s sacrifice means to us and pray silently for forgiveness of our sins and promise to keep His commandments.
  • Then, between three to four people speak to us on various topics relating to the gospel.
  • We have more hymns, and sometimes a musical performance of sacred music.
  • Then we separate into various age groups and have Sunday School lessons in which a teacher guides us through a number of chapters from the scriptures and we discuss the material and how it relates to our lives. In this way everyone gets to contribute their thoughts and interpretations and perspectives, so everyone gets to learn from everyone else.
  • Then we have another lesson on teachings of modern prophets.
  • The teachers are all people from among the congregation. They don’t have any special training except for the preparations they make for their lessons. They don’t get paid any money for what they do.
I gain a lot of strength from being with so many people at once that believe in the principles that I believe. It helps me feel that I am not alone in the world in trying to do what is right. Rather than feeling like I have to carry my burdens alone, I have a support system in the church when things get too difficult for me. I give my support to other people too when they need it and we all strengthen each other.

Second, the scripture above tells us that the church is a fortification against the devil, so that we can prevail. “whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them” (Doctrine &Covenants 10:69) United, we can stand against the temptations we face as we learn principles that help us resist. Divided, we might succumb.

I suspect that this is what God intended His church to be—for instruction and strength.

So there you have it; it’s not just belonging to a church, it is belonging to God’s kingdom. It’s not just about worshipping, it’s also being instructed and doing some instructing, it’s also being strengthened and strengthening others.

(Image credit - amymac, www.panoramio.com/photo/5094202)
Thursday, September 11, 2008 0 comments

Why an organized religion? (part 1) On Order

Recently I was talking with a good friend who expressed her dislike for organized religion. If I understood her sentiments correctly, her dislike arose from the idea of having anyone tell her what to do. She said that if other people needed churches to help them be moral, then that was fine, but she could be spiritual on her own.

For the record, I want to make it clear that I was not offended. Rather, I felt a measure of concern.

Having been part of an organized religion (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) for my whole life, and having enjoyed the benefits of it, I felt that perhaps there are some misunderstandings out there about the purposes and methods of organized religion. People have questions about why there is a need for groups to gather together to worship, when worship is such a personal thing between an individual and God. People wonder why there is a need for an authority figure, and wonder just how much power the authority figure has or should have over the group. America has such a tradition of individual liberty with balance of power and government of the people by the people for the people that an unopposed authority figure seems undemocratic somehow.

In hopes that I can iron out some of these misunderstandings and answer some of these questions, I am going to embark upon a series that examines the underlying principles of my church’s organization (since it is the one I know the most about) with the help of modern scripture.

It seems to me that the first principle and reason for organized religion is that the Lord Himself is a God of order.
8 Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.
9 Will I accept of an offering, saith the Lord, that is not made in my name?
10 Or will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?
11 And will I appoint unto you, saith the Lord, except it be by law, even as I and my Father ordained unto you, before the world was?
12 I am the Lord thy God; and I give unto you this commandment—that no man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my word, which is my law, saith the Lord.
13 And everything that is in the world, whether it be ordained of men, by thrones, or principalities, or powers, or things of name, whatsoever they may be, that are not by me or by my word, saith the Lord, shall be thrown down, and shall not remain after men are dead, neither in nor after the resurrection, saith the Lord your God. (Doctrine & Covenants 132:8-13)
Imagine the community of heaven, with the innumerable spirits in attendance upon our Heavenly Father. Do they all rush in and crowd about, pushing and shoving, yelling and waving their arms to catch His attention? Would this be heaven? No, it would be a madhouse. So we must envision people acting orderly and quietly, with reverent dignity. As God loves all His children the same, He wants to give each His attention, so He establishes rules by which His children can come to Him with assurance of His approval. (“I give unto you this commandment—that no man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my word, which is my law, saith the Lord”) This principle is the same on earth too. Our church is supposed to be an extension of heaven’s order. No one comes to Heavenly Father except through Jesus Christ and His word.

If something is to be done in an orderly manner, you must first know what is to be done, and then you must know the orderly way to do it.

There are a lot of people that think that they can serve God any old way and He’ll approve. They think that God doesn’t have an opinion or a preference about it, least of all any specific requirements. The scripture above seems to make it clear that God actually does have a very strong idea of what He wants us to do, and since He is God, and God is holy, we can be assured that what He wants is the right thing. He has such a strong opinion about it that He won’t accept anything except what He asks for. (“will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?”) The things He asks for He gives as laws, or commandments.

Knowing that order and organization is an integral part of heaven and not just for earth life helps us reconcile ourselves to the prospect of adding order and law and organization to our lives. Organizing in the Lord’s way on the earth means that when we get to heaven and join that society of angels we will be perfectly familiar and comfortable with the way things are done.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 0 comments

To inherit eternal life...


There are quite a few things that Jesus has said that are so disturbing in their righteousness that they raise immediate questions in our minds and when we can’t find answers, we reject his sayings as impractical.
18 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
19 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.
20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.
21 And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.
22 Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. (Luke 18:18-22)
What are the questions that come automatically to your mind? Are they anything like the following? :

If I sell everything I have, how can I provide for myself and my family?
Does Christ mean EVERYTHING?
If I sell everything I have, and if I and my family manage to survive, what if there is some kind of medical emergency or a natural disaster or something?
If everyone were to do this, who would have anything left to help anyone?

Something that seemed to stick out to me this time I read these verses was that after Christ told the man to sell all and distribute to the poor, He then invited him to “come, follow me”. To me this suggests that the Lord was issuing a calling and that He was inviting the man to divest himself of the cares of the world and the stuff that brought those cares so that he had more freedom to serve with Christ.

This reminds me a lot of how apostles are called. I read about Spencer W. Kimball’s call to be an apostle and how he had to sell his thriving business and his dream house and move his family and so on.

The apostles in Christ’s day were quick to note that they had accepted the call.
28 Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.
29 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake,
30 Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting. (Luke 18:28-30)
This is the promise that the other man could have received too, had he been willing to do what Christ asked and accept the call.

But back to the rich man who couldn’t let it go..
23 And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.
24 And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
26 And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? (Luke 18:23-26)
Something has always bothered me about that question there: “Who then can be saved?” It seems like it is the most incongruous thing to ask, especially for people that are supposed to understand how to obtain salvation! It is as if they think that rich people are those who are most worthy of entering the kingdom of God and if there is no hope for rich people then no one else has a chance! Or is it that they are asking those questions that I was asking before, asking about their temporal salvation? Are they asking how they would provide for their families or be saved in a disaster or famine or if the main breadwinner dies?

Christ’s answer to this question is:
And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. (Luke 18:27)
If the people were asking how they would survive an emergency or disaster or famine or whatever if they have given all their surplus and don’t have riches accumulated to ride it out, Christ’s saying makes sense as a reminder that while men face constraints, God does not. We may feel that not having extra money means that we can’t acquire the things we need in a sudden emergency, but God has control over the earth and He can manage world resources better than anyone, so He has the power to bring what we need into our lives when we need it. He can work on people’s hearts to entice them to have charity and to be generous. Ultimately it’s about trusting God and not bank accounts.

When I read that bit about it being easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, I think of how a camel has so much mass and a needle eye is so small. A thoughtful camel might say to itself, “To get through that tiny opening I’d have to chop off every part of me that makes me what I am! I’d no longer be a camel!” I suspect that this is the same kind of reasoning that keeps any of us from giving more, whatever our status. “I can’t give more, I can’t give this; I’d be giving up what makes me what I am!” We say our stuff and our money makes us what we are, because we have this idea we’ve gotten from years of indoctrination by individualist advertisements that our identity is somehow tied to the stuff we own. We make our stuff into symbols of ourselves, so we think that giving away our stuff or divesting it is synonymous with rejecting our own identity. Is it really true that we are less of a person when we have less stuff?

A story that gives me hope comes in the next chapter.
2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (Luke 19:2-10)
Here is that idea of salvation associated with giving generously. I think it is because the giving requires loving God and man, which love is charity, the greatest quality of all, without which all our good works are nothing.

So, let’s compare the nameless rich man (who shall be referred to as “nameless”) with Zacchaeus.

Both Nameless and Zacchaeus were seeking Jesus. Nameless asked Jesus a question directly, and Zacchaeus just wanted to see who Jesus was and climbed a tree just to have the chance to see him. (Question – Was this an unusual thing for a rich man to climb a tree back then? I suspect it was. If it was unusual, it might indicate humility.)

Nameless was told to sell all, but Zacchaeus gave half of his goods and promised to make restitution fourfold for any injustice he may have done. Jesus approved of Zacchaeus's half-offering. Does the amount matter?

Nameless was told what he needed to do still, whereas Zacchaeus seems to have acted on a sudden generous impulse. (Maybe this teaches us we should act more on our generous impulses.)

(Image credit – www.penitents.org/fvocation.htm)
Monday, September 8, 2008 2 comments

"All is well" - a license to relax, or a reason to get to work?


And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell…. Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! (2 Nephi 28:21, 24)
Have you ever noticed that the LDS Hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints” has the words “All is well” in it? For a while I was troubled about that, and I wondered how that hymn could be reconciled with this scripture.

Some words that stick out to me in the above scripture are the following:
pacify
lull them away
carnal security
cheateth their souls
leadeth them away carefully down to hell
at ease in Zion

Now, compare these words to some of the phrases in the hymn:
no toil nor labor fear
though hard
tis better…to strive
gird up your loins
fresh courage take
shout praises

The feeling conveyed is completely different. What matters is the spirit in which the words are said and the intent behind them and then the actions that follow

The hymn conveys the idea that even when things are in turmoil, “all is well” and advocates work to assuage grief and worry, promising that someday rest will come.

The scripture warns how Satan tries to tempt us into inactivity with the argument that things are already going fabulously and our efforts aren’t needed in Zion. The effect of this if we listen to it is our souls will be cheated of the temporal and spiritual blessings of giving our service.

So what is it we stand to gain by laboring for Zion?
And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me. (D&C 59:4)
This scripture shows us that diligence in keeping the commandments prepares us not only for blessings and revelations, but also more commandments. So it seems that commandments are also a blessing. (I still remember the day when my dad pointed this out in family scripture study; it was totally shocking to me.) I suspect it is because blessings are attached to commandments so inseparably that to refer to one is to refer to the other. The ability to keep some commandments requires keeping other commandments first as preparation, like how the Law of Tithing prepares us for the Law of Consecration.
28 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.
29 And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.
(1 Nephi 16:28-29)
In this scripture we see that diligence brings understanding about the ways of the Lord. This is such a precious thing, to know why the Lord does what He does. It introduces us to the exalted reasoning of our God and little by little we start to think like He does.

Diligence also brings more guidance to us, indicating that we have progressed. It is additional light that saves us from ignorance, confusion, and temptation.
And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day. (Jacob 1:19)
In this scripture we see that teaching the gospel with diligence clears us.
And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God. (Moroni 9:6)
In this scripture, laboring diligently allows us to conquer Satan and eventually rest in the kingdom of God, even if our labors don’t produce the effect that we desire to have on others. Working is good for us.

My husband and I have church on Sunday starting at 2pm and we get home at 5pm. I came home yesterday juggling a mental list of things I had to do for church. I had a new cub scout joining my den that I had to inform my assistant of. I had to call the parent of the scout to let them know about den meeting times and places and email them a schedule of our plans. I needed to make appointments to go visiting teaching. I needed to write in my journal. I wanted to do a blog entry. I wanted to call one of my friends and tell her the end result of one of my challenges that worked out. The mental list just didn’t seem to end! And I was expecting a call at some point from at least one of my siblings just to talk.

I thought about this list of mine and I wondered, “Do I REALLY need to do this today? Can’t it wait for another day? Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest!” I didn’t want to do any of it. I wanted to lay back and digest my food after breaking my fast. But it kept bugging me, so I thought, “Well, none of these things is really for myself and Sunday is for serving the Lord, so.. I guess I’ll do it… And because I didn’t feel like it, I prayed from help to want to start and the Lord reminded me of how good it felt to serve and that gave me the motivation to start.

(Image credit - Ann Kapp Anderson, www.annkappandersen.com/index1.htm)
Sunday, September 7, 2008 0 comments

How I got started reading scriptures on my own



I’ve written before that I started to read the scriptures on my own at age seventeen, but I haven’t told how it came about.

In my family, we read the scriptures every day after dinner. Everybody had a copy of the scriptures to follow along and read from. We all took turns reading. When I say we read scriptures after dinner, I mean that we could not leave the table and go anywhere until we read. Essentially we were stuck at the table until we got through a chapter. Through most of my teenage years, this was my main exposure. I might read for seminary as required, but I didn’t really keep it up during the summer.

My mom was my seminary teacher during high school, and the summer before my senior year I decided I would get a head start on the seminary reading material. We would be going through the New Testmament. That’s when I started reading the scriptures on my own because I wanted to and not because I was required for anything.

This was when my testimony began to sprout.

I would read my scriptures at night while lying in bed, just before I went to sleep and I began to notice some interesting blessings. The nights that I read, the next day seemed to go smoother. The nights that I forgot or was too tired to read, the next day felt kinda rough. I suspect that the days went smoothly when I read the scriptures the night before, because when I was confronted with a challenge or a temptation, I was more easily able to do what the Lord would want me to do, having put myself more under His influence and having those principles from the scriptures closer to the conscious surface of my mind than they would be otherwise. I was more at peace with myself and more intent on keeping the peace between myself and others (like difficult younger siblings, of which I had six).

How did you begin reading the scriptures on your own? What blessings have you noticed from it?

(Image credit – “Daniel and Karleigh and Jadon” blog, http://hobartfrankfurter.blogspot.com/2007/07/scripture-study.html)
Thursday, September 4, 2008 0 comments

Some thoughts on law and light


Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people. (Isaiah 51:4)
Here we see that when we are looking for enlightenment and guidance, the law of God is the light we need. I’ve found this to be true. In my school studies, I find that my understanding is always enriched and deepened when I use my gospel knowledge as a sort of touchstone and a way to quickly associate new ideas to absorb them faster. Not only that, but I found that my physics and chemistry classes could bring new insights to gospel truth I already had.

Ultimately, Christ is the light of the world. (see D&C 6:21)

In the following verses, Nephi quotes Isaiah.
10 Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light?
11 Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow. (2 Nephi 7:10-11)
I see verse 10 as more of a rhetorical question. “Is there any of you who fear God and obey the prophet and still don’t know what you should do?” (No one should answer.) Trusting the Lord and obeying the law of the Lord will give us plenty of guidance.

Isaiah knows that there are still people who will reject the law of God because they don’t want to be guided by it. They want to make their own rules. He likens this to someone who rejects the light of the sun and instead walks around with a flint and steel, banging them together and trying to see where they are going by the light of the brief sparks that come out. Isaiah tells them to go ahead and do that, but he warns them that result will be that they lie down in sorrow. (He may mean that they will lie down with regrets in their beds at the end of the day, or he may mean that they will lie down in their graves with regrets at the end of their lives. Or he may mean both.)
34 And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.
35 That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still.
36 All kingdoms have a law given; (Doctrine 88:34-36)
There's no way of getting away from the law; there are rules everywhere we go, and in the afterlife there are house rules for each mansion the Lord prepares. Even mercy has limits and bounds that can't be messed with. God can't be fooled or manipulated and He knows when we're sincere and when we're not.

Another thought suggested to me by this scripture was that since we are commanded to believe in Christ and repent of our sins and be baptized, those are also laws.

One thing I know about the grace of Christ is that it empowers us to keep the law. On our own we could not do it, but when our heart has been changed, we find we want to keep the law, and grace strengthens us to do it. We still make mistakes and suffer all kinds of human frailties and weaknesses, but the opportunity to repent is still there and then grace is there for us.

If we thought that only belief is necessary for salvation, if we thought that once we confess Jesus is our Savior we have no need to do anything else, if we thought we don't have to worry about obeying ordinances or commandments we are indulging in a worrisome self-sabotage.
And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers. (Doctrine & Covenants 93:39)
Just how important is it to obtain and hang onto light and truth?
And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation. (D&C 93:32)
Behold, here is the agency of man [meaning the ability to make a choice], and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light. (D&C 93: 31, square brackets are mine)
And further, one of the reasons for giving specific commandments about how to worship:
I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. (D&C 93:19)
If we don't know who we are worshipping, we may be barking up the wrong tree. Knowing who is more than just knowing the name of the person, it is having a correct idea of their nature and characteristics.

If we don't know how to worship, we may find ourselves not pleasing the Being we worship as much as we could. Or even worse, we may find that we are not pleasing our God at all. We may find that when we say "Lord, Lord.." He says, "Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity!"
27 And no man receiveth a fullness unless he keepeth his commandments.
28 He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things. (D&C 93:27-28)
Believing and confessing Christ indeed brings a portion of light and truth, but keeping the commandments to repent, be baptized, and endure to the end will gradually bring the fullness.
The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. (D&C 93:36)
Keeping the commandments of God actually makes us smarter and allows us to partake of God's glory. On the other hand, breaking the commandments makes us stupid and cheats us of the opportunity to become like God.

(Image credit - eJournalUSA, "Landmark Decisions", http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itdhr/0405/ijde/decisions.htm)
Wednesday, September 3, 2008 0 comments

Are you curious about Mormons?


Facts
1)“Mormon” is a nickname for those belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Other nicknames include “LDS” and “Latter-day Saints”.
2)The church was restored in 1830, in upstate New York by Joseph Smith.
3)The current prophet and president of the church is Thomas S. Monson.
3)Number of members worldwide are about 13,000,000
4)Local churches are led by unpaid, volunteer members
5)Mormons are well-represented in government; 16 Congressmen are Mormons.

Faith
1)Mormons believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost.
2)Mormons consider Christ their personal Savior and example. They worship God in the name of Christ, and Christ is the core of the church.
3)Mormons believe in the eternal nature of the soul.
4)Mormons believe that the original church was lost, but has been restored through modern-day prophets, along with ordinances, temples, and many doctrines and principles important for the salvation of man.
5)Mormons believe in the Bible and Book of Mormon as both testaments of the divinity and mission of Christ.

Families
1)Mormons believe the family to be the basic unit in the church and in society.
2)Mormons are committed to a definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.
4)Mormons believe in the principle of chastity – abstention from all sexual contact before marriage and complete fidelity after marriage.
3)The practice of polygamy was limited and has been discontinued since the late 1880s.
4)Families worship together in church.
5)Mormons hold Family Home Evenings weekly to teach their children religious values.
6)Children’s organizations and youth organizations in the church are a support to the family, but don’t substitute for it.
7)Mormons believe in the importance of doing family history to find out about their heritage.
8)The highest ordinances relate to families, both living and dead.

Fruits of the restored gospel - Judge the religion by the results
1)Longer life than the national average
2)Married temple-goers have much lower divorce rate
3)Education level higher than national average
4)70,000 members volunteer to serve at their own expense around the world
5)Strong emphasis on self-reliance and work ethic, service to others, donation to humanitarian causes

If interested in learning more, visit www.mormon.org where you can:
Request a FREE Bible or Book of Mormon
Ask a missionary questions in an online chat
Read more detailed material about Mormon beliefs

(Image credit - Beehive Standard Weekly, beehivestandardweekly.com/authors/4/Emerson-Chase)
Tuesday, September 2, 2008 0 comments

I got to be an instrument

I had a neat experience last Sunday. In Sunday School while we were waiting for our teacher to appear, I opened the study guide that I kept in my scripture case so that I could see what lesson we were on. I saw that it was titled “They Did Obey…Every Word of Command with Exactness” and encompassed Alma 53-63. Undoubtedly it was focusing on the armies of Helaman, those stripling warriors.

I thought about the recent study I had done on them that culminated in this blog entry and I hoped I would have an opportunity to share some of things I found.

After a while it became evident that we actually didn’t have a teacher, and the Sunday School President was also missing. Brother Moak went and brought in Brother Wagner (an instructor in the high priest quorum) to teach a lesson. Brother Wagner was understandably flustered as he stood up in front of everyone. Poor guy; nothing like the sudden prospect of having to unexpectedly teach a lesson to destroy peace of mind.

Since he wasn’t prepared on the topic of the lesson, he was going to fall back on the area that he had been studying on his own—the last few chapters of Moroni—when he happened to say that if anyone else happened to have a lesson prepared, they were more than welcome to speak up and take the class.

I thought again of the things I had learned and I felt that the Lord wanted me to share those things, so I raised my hand. (I don’t think I’ve ever felt so self-conscious about raising my hand to volunteer before!) It took a while for Brother Wagner to notice me, but the Petersens pointed me out to him and he offered me the floor. And now I was the one that was flustered…

Thankfully the person who gave the opening prayer asked that I could teach the things that I had in my heart and somehow I got things started.

It turned out to be a great lesson, and it wasn’t because of me. The Lord blessed me in a special way. I spoke confidently. Occasionally the Spirit whispered to my mind the next thing I should do. “Tell this story” or “Point out this scripture” or “Ask for stories from everyone else” or “Ask this question” or “Say this”. It was like having a lesson book in my head, even though I had no idea what would come next until the Spirit told me. The Spirit even told me when it was time to end.

When it was all over, a lot of people told me how good the lesson was and complimented me on my readiness. I was very quick to say that it wasn’t me, it was the Lord and I was very blessed.

This experience has shown me that when we are carefully studying our scriptures, the Lord will make instruments of us to do His work. It showed me how powerful and knowledgeable the Lord is. He knew far in advance that the Sunday School teacher would be absent and He prepared a way for a lesson to be taught anyway. All I really had to do was study my scriptures and… raise my hand at the right time.